HARTFORD, Conn. — Emphatically, dominantly, Purdue basketball booked another trip to the Sweet 16.
The No. 3 seed Boilermakers simply obliterated defending national champion and No. 6 seed Villanova 87-61 on Saturday night at XL Center. On the biggest stage, and in the most pressure-filled environment, Purdue had all but assured a victory early in the second half and never took its foot off of the Wildcats’ throats.
Purdue advanced to its third consecutive Sweet 16 — the program’s first such run since 1998-2000. The Boilermakers now head to Louisville, to face either second-seeded Tennessee or No. 10 seed Iowa in the South Regional semifinals.
Carsen Edwards, scuffling through inefficient production for weeks, erupted with one of the great games of his career — perhaps any Boilermaker career. The junior guard scored a career-high 42 points on 12 of 21 shooting, making 9 of 16 from 3-point range in the process.
Edwards joined Glenn Robinson, Joe Barry Carroll and Rick Mount as the only Boilermakers with multiple 30-point NCAA tournament games.
Ryan Cline also bounced back from an off shooting night in the opener against Old Dominion to make 4 of 8 for 12 points. When Villanova overcompensated for the Boilermakers’ 3-point prowess, Matt Haarms exploited that choice repeatedly for dunks en route to 18 points.
Seniors Cline and Grady Eifert became the winningest senior class in program history with their 108th victory. That includes six in the past three years in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
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Purdue locked into control with a 24-2 run that intersected the first and second halves. After a 13-0 run to open the second half, the Boilermakers held an unheard of 1.647-0.686 advantage in points per possession. That is the sort of differential one might expect in a non-conference “buy” game against a low major — not the second round of the NCAA tournament against one of the elite programs in college basketball.
Purdue’s opening-round victory over 14-seeded Old Dominion, while comfortable, carried a vibe similar to the grind-out-out victories that characterized much of its Big Ten championship run.
Saturday night, the Boilermakers came out with, in context, their best half of basketball this season.
Purdue hit 5 of its first 7 from 3-point range while jumping out to a 19-10 lead. The barrage came off of some of the Boilermakers’ best ball movement in weeks, both via ball screen action on the perimeter or from kick-outs off of offensive rebounds.
Villanova coach Jay Wright had called his team’s defensive rebounding “non-existent” after a tournament-opening victory over Saint Mary’s. Purdue beat the Wildcats 21-11 on the glass in the first half, and 10 came on offense.
To extend that early lead, Purdue turned up the defensive pressure. Villanova scored only once in the final five minutes – when Eric Paschall fought through traffic in the lane to beat the shot clock. Meanwhile, Purdue continually exploited Villanova’s tendency to overhelp on the post and inefficiently attempt to jump passing lanes.
Three easy baskets by Haarms, and three Villanova turnovers on its final four possessions, keyed Purdue’s 11-2 closing run to a 43-24 lead.
The points per possession testified to the first half’s lopsided nature: Villanova 0.857, Purdue 1.536.
Back in December, when Purdue sat at 6-5 after failing to break through against a tough early road schedule, a No. 3 seed seemed like a lofty expectation. The trajectory of the Boilermakers’ season changed when they elevated their defensive level.
Between Jan. 31 and Saturday’s tipoff, Purdue had raised its ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric from 70th to 27th. In the eight games prior to Saturday, the Boilermakers had held their opponents to 59.8 points per game and 36.3 percent shooting (28.5 percent from 3-point range).
Purdue continued the trend Saturday. It held the nation’s 16th-most efficient offense under 36 percent shooting.
Point guard Nojel Eastern, who missed Thursday’s first half after turning his ankle in pregame warm-ups, started and played 27 minutes. He held Phil Booth, who came in leading Villanova with 18.7 points per game, to 15 points on 5 of 14 shooting with two assists and five turnovers.
The Boilermakers also finally broke through against a Villanova team – winner of two of the last three national championships – that had remained just out of reach over the past three seasons.
Coming off of the 2016 national championship, the Wildcats won by three points at Mackey Arena in the second game of the season. Purdue missed chances to play Villanova last season in the Battle 4 Atlantis and the East Regional in Boston by losing prior games.